Saturday, August 28, 2010

Painting as Stress Relief

While this post is mostly to test out putting images into a post, I think I ought to explain the picture.

I suffer from stress and anxiety. I am a world-class worrier.

A while ago I took some time off work, and during that time, started painting Warhammer 40,000 models. I have no discer
nible artistic ability. Art is the one subject I almost failed when forced to take it in Grade 8. However, using a small brush and needing to paint fine detail certainly focuses the mind and shuts out the rest of the world.

Nothing about this Dreadnought model is original, and to some degree it is a bit like paint-by-numbers at the moment. One day I might try something original. I do have some Space Marines undercoated, and in the next couple weeks, I might start on them.

I've never played the Warhammer tabletop games, although I did play the Dawn of War computer game. When I was much younger, I did play Battletech and my brother and I had a few plastic Battlemechs, but they have mostly disappeared over time. I don't think I will really get into the games, but the local store that carries the models will occasionally get my patronage.

Half-Way to Nowhere

There are many situations where patience is a virtue. I remember when the Olympics were awarded to Sydney. It seemed so far away in time - seven years of waiting for two weeks of action.

However, in those seven years there was frantic activity and promotion, building to a crescendo of two weeks in September 2000 which most people in this country look back on fondly. No doubt those directly involved in the organization and staging also feel a great sense of pride and achievement.

On January 19, 2006, another great waiting game began. Nine years of waiting for eight weeks of frantic activity. Unfortunately this great endeavour is not as well publicized and looking in from the outside there appear to be long periods of not much going on. And the facts are that so many things could have, and still could, go wrong and render all the waiting futile.

I am talking about the New Horizons Mission to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt. The New Horizons probe is about half way to Pluto, where for about four weeks either side of closest approach, it will be able to produce images superior to the best Hubble images of Pluto.

In 1989 when I was seventeen, the ABC presented a program where we watched and waited for the first images from the closest approach of Voyager 2 to Neptune. We saw the beautiful blue of the atmosphere and the Great Dark Spot. I am hoping that something like this will happen again in 2015, although sadly I fear it will be relegated to the Internet, and people will complain that the whole thing was anti-climactic. This is because in contrast with the spectacular gas and ice giants, Pluto may not offer up the spectacle that will entrance the general public. It is scientifically interesting and important, but I can foresee as the encounter approaches the media devolving into the argument about Pluto's planetary status and if the images aren't spectacular enough more whining about the waste of money on NASA and space exploration.

Personally, I don't care about any of that. I don't care if the media doesn't appreciate the science or the engineering or the sense of achievement of those involved in the mission (OK, that is a lie - I do care, but I am pessimistic). I want these next five years to go by uneventfully for the team operating New Horizons, and for eight weeks in 2015, I want to share in the experience of watching images that have taken hours to arrive from billions of miles away, marvel in the engineering achievement, and await the scientific insights into the farthest solar system body (planet, minor planet or whatever) yet visited.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Counting Heads

I have been reading a lot about the 2010 Federal Election. Of course, without some of the online sources available, sometimes the pickings are a bit thin. Even thinner than the pickings, though, is the breadth of opinion one finds in various newspaper comment sections and blog comments. I've come to the conclusion that while various news outlets are not necessarily overtly politically biased (to my generous eye, anyway), the readers and followers of said outlets invariably are. Andrew Bolt's blog seems populated by right-wing climate sceptics and what in the US would be called libertarians, while the ABC's blog site The Drum seems overrun with left-leaning Labor and Green followers.

One common feature I have noticed amongst these commentariats, and one of the most remarkable things I have seen in the aftermath of the election and the frankly quite interesting and engrossing numbers game that has evolved is the ignorance about how the Australian Electoral System works. In addition, it seems that so many people, including some presenters I have seen on the more "info-tainment" free-to-air channels don't understand how the Government is formed or the role of the Governor-General and the history of such things. While sometimes these things do seem a bit arcane, and are probably not all that interesting, except to people like me, they are part of the cornerstone of Australian Government and like it or not, the results of these uninteresting and arcane processes will end up affecting people's lives on a day-to-day basis. Perhaps the lack of education in what used to be called Social Studies or Civics is to blame. Or maybe people just don't care. In the instant-result world we live in, they want to know who won, who lost, and then move on to "what is the next dish on Master Chef" or some other sixty-minute advertorial.

The other commonality is that I am seeing are people on all sides of the ideological divides complaining that the preferential voting system is "unfair" (that is, we didn't win with it this time). Then there is the other complaint about compulsory voting being unfair, undemocratic, or that compulsory voting means that the stupid and the ignorant come out to vote. Of course the stupid and the ignorant seem to always support the other side, and "something should be done", as if disenfranchisement is the logical solution. The reality is that all voting systems have problems, and "proper representation" or "fair representation" to some degree depends on what criteria you use to determine this. And compulsory voting has both its good points and its drawbacks.

I don't know the answers as to what is fair or just or best. What I do know is that an engaged electorate who understand the system should be best-placed to decide these things for themselves. And to that end, education is not the answer, but may be an answer.

The Australian Electoral Commission web site has some great resources, including a couple of videos that explain the counting of votes in both Houses. (I love how the Senate votes are counted). And Wikipedia, the font of some knowledge (much of it accurate) has a starting point on different types of voting systems.

Welcome to the jungle

So blogging.

Yeah.

I work in technology as a network engineer but I have been slow to take up the new technology. I don't Twitter, nor do I do Facebook, My Space, or any of the other social media. Never blogged, and I don't maintain a homepage. As Jubal Early would say, does that seem right to you?

Perhaps it is a generational thing. My first computer was a TRS-80. I remember my first modem. At University, we used a mainframe and Lynx was the broswer of choice for the new-fangled HTTP protocol.

I certainly know that I still type out full words in SMS messages and email. I still prefer my old Blackberry with the wheel on the side over the newer trackball models, although I'm probably not so averse to touchscreens and gestures.

As a fairly conservative, reserved and anti-conflict individual, I am probably also very wary about an online presence. Though not scarred by the flamewars of the usenet era, they certainly convinced me that one should keep their head below the parapet. Opinions matter, but am I prepared to have mine out there - will I look a fool, am I just being dumb, what do other people think? Is my opinion worth anything?

Probably it is not. But with a billion other primates hammering away on a billion keyoards, generating gigabytes of gibberish (with a few jewels thrown in), who is going to notice? My interests include computer networking, astronomy and, of all things, elections. So, these are the things I want to talk about. Maybe this thing will die in a ditch after I lose interest; maybe it won't. I guess I'll wait and see.

M.